What creatives make of Gillette’s dividing ad on toxic masculinity
For better or worse, Gillette has sparked a debate about the next generation of masculinity in light of the Me Too scandals with the launch of a US campaign called ‘we believe: the best men can be'. Its message, urging men to be better, divided viewers.
The 115-year-old Boston-based brand’s latest work, directed by Kim Gehrig of This Girl Can fame, found life on social media and crossed the Atlantic, in no part thanks to TV presenter Piers Morgan’s tweet complaining about Gillette's foray into feminism.
GIllette takes a deep look at modern masculinity
The ad from Grey New York has sparked boycotts and plaudits by asking men to assess their impact on society. The work took umbrage with the expression ‘boys will be boys’ and challenged men to be their best in light of the #MeToo controversies. It also marked the 30th anniversary of Gillette's 'The Best a Man Can Get' strapline which debuted during the 1983 Super Bowl.
On launch, Gary Coombe, president of P&G Global Grooming, said: “By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behaviour, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal ‘best,’ we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come.”
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Combe believed the brand has a legitimate right to speak on the subject as the "world’s largest marketer to men". The razor and grooming brand also said it is donating $1m annually to for the next three years to US non-profits who also follow its values. This includes the Boys and Girls clubs of America.
Here's how the ad industry felt about the ad, much like the public, the commentators are divided.
Sairah Ashman, global chief executive at Wolff Olins
Gillette has ruffled feathers with its newest ad, and the move was a risk for the brand. It’s calling out customers who associate with the version of masculinity it presents, and probably offending others who don’t identify with it.
Many question the company’s right to do this, given it isn’t typically associated with feminism or anti-bullying. Still, this mainstream buy-in to a contemporary understanding of male identity represents a significant step forward in our culture. If Gillette is willing to lose customers over its views (which it might, given that dislikes on YouTube far outweigh likes), that’s got to be applauded. Gillette is facing serious competition from the likes of Dollar Shave Club, aligning with a popular – if controversial – cause makes sense from a business perspective. Another point to consider is the economic power of women.
In the States alone, more than half of the population is female. Women are responsible for more than $39tn, meaning they control 30% of the world’s wealth and the majority of its shopping trollies. What happens in a world where women starting judging men on their blade choices - could it make a difference at the tills? In Amazon’s world, and with the rising power of direct to consumer brands, Gillette has taken a punt that the interest from those who wish to align with the anti-toxicity message will outweigh boycotting.
The need to differentiate is clear, while the success of Nike shows that social causes can drive sales. Gillette has pledged to actively challenge male stereotypes in the future by investing in relevant causes. I hope they put their money where their mouth is
Dan Cullen-Shute, chief executive and co-founder of Creature (who recently deconstructed the British Army's snowflake ad)
Jesus fucking Christ. I mean. Where do I start with that? I’ve got to be honest, haven’t I? I think this is rubbish. I hate it. Overblown tripe, dripping with self-importance. In years to come, when professors are giving lectures on ‘Why Brand Purpose Died’, this is Fonzie on a motorcycle waving at a shark. Most people think Gillette’s endline just means that their razors are really good, and yet now, here they are, ready to save the world.
See, I admire the ambition. And I’m on their side. I want my son to grow up not to be an arsehole. I like, as a general rule, anything that provokes an exaggerated spit-take from the bulging-vein political-correctness-gone-mad brigade. My enemies’ enemies are my friends and all that. But sometimes - just sometimes - my enemies’ enemies get a bit carried away, and make a bit of a tit of themselves. My main problem, I think, with my professional head firmly on, is that I don’t really see what right - beyond an apparently widely misunderstood endline - Gillette has to be in this conversation. When Lynx pivoted, it made sense: it had built a brand on objectifying women, so they had something to push against.
Gillette has built a brand on mirror-men with unnaturally smooth faces rubbing their chins. There’s not a gap between that and the world of toxic-masculinity, there’s a fucking chasm: and, as wide as I’ve cast my net, I can’t find the interview where Tarana Burke talks about how she really hopes #MeToo can be used to sell loads of triple-blade razors with really macho names one day. So, yeah. Eesh. In some, small ways, good on ‘em: if you’re pissing off the right people, you must be doing something right. Unfortunately, however good their intentions, they’re also doing significantly more wrong."
Tom Goodwin, executive vice president of Innovation at Zenith
For a long time, I think the world of advertising has lost its boldness, its thirst for risk, its desire to be part of real global conversations. Adland was once part of culture, it got people talking, it both reflected and shaped the zeitgeist.
Branding needs to be risky, we need to define ourselves by who we don't speak to as well as who we do. Whether it's the right time for Gillette to step in, whether it's a cynical ploy to hijack a movement, whether brands need to interfere with incredibly important but intimate movements are all good questions for us to debate and I as yet don't know my own views on them. Time will tell, people will talk. And that in itself is a great sign of work that is ambitious and we need that more than ever.
Adam Mack, UK chief executive of W Comms London
As a father of two young boys, I always feel like I’m walking a tightrope between toughening them up for the world that we currently live in and ensuring that they have the emotional IQ to change that world for the better. So from my perspective, the more brands that invest time, money and effort to help us all navigate this (complex conundrum) the better.
Furthermore, our work with Calm has shown us just how fragile male mental health is at the moment and anything which tackles the causes at an early age is very welcome. I see that Piers (Morgan) has weighed in already, which means two things. The issue will have the attention it deserves, but that attention will be divisive.
As with most things of complexity, the solution usually lies between two camps so it might be worth engaging the Piers camp in constructive dialogue rather than treating it with the usual yappy disdain. Finally, a few words on Gillette: I really hope it doesn't go down the usual route of just distributing this global content willy-nilly. As good as the film is (and as good as the campaign’s intentions are), the UK is quite a nuanced market and they’d be missing a trick if they didn’t adapt it better to UK hearts and minds”.
JP Hanson, chief executive at strategic consultancy Rouser
At first glance, the campaign comes across as yet another brand taking an official stand. Yet Gillette isn’t really, because there is no contrary position. No brand in its right mind would promote sexism or bullying. Clearly, the zeitgeist has (long overdue) changed post #MeToo, as the ad also states, but that means it becomes reactive rather than proactive and ultimately somewhat condescending, particularly towards the brave women who fought further back in history.
Then again, Gillette remains perfectly happy telling women that they’re not perfect unless they remove their body hair. In the grand scheme of things though, it will likely neither help nor hurt the brand to any meaningful degree. Of course, there will be a few small-penised men threatened by an updated view of masculinity or the empowerment of women crying on internet forums, but most Gillette customers will inevitably buy the brand once every two years or so. For them, at the point of purchase, this won’t even make the mental radar.
Sophie Lewis, chief strategy officer at VMLY&R
I am very happy that Gillette has made this piece of communication. Not because it’s any good, but because I have been waiting to see how brands will approach masculinity in the current gender-political climate and it’s a great way to learn what not to do.
And to be fair, I reckon at the brief stage it had all the right intentions. In fact, at the production stage, it was probably just about hanging together, thanks to Kim Gehrig!
But the truth is that Gillette should have raised the debate and the questions, and not tried to answer the question or fix the problem themselves. In terms of execution, it gets itself in all sorts of bother with regard to male stereotypes and definitions. What’s wrong with a man who barbecues?
The bits I like are, of course, the bits which were not shot by Kim nor written by a creative in an agency. They are the TV coverage of sexual harassment stories and Terry Crews. They are the bits showing the extent of the problem. The rest is questionable. The execution leaves something to be desired and, if you think about it, was it really necessary to shoot new examples of men treating women inappropriately, when so many exist in the world already?
But, like I say, well done for opening this can of worms, Gillette. Bring it on.
And finally, here are a few choice tweets outlining the public's reaction to the work.
Gillette: Men, could you please be the best versions of yourselves and care for yourself and others Men: I beg your pardon — Mollie Goodfellow (@hansmollman) January 15, 2019
If @Gillette really want to make a change perhaps they could start by looking at their pink ‘Venus’ range for women that includes names like Passion and Embrace and costs more than the men’s ranges for the same thing. Thanks. — Caroline Hirons (@CarolineHirons) January 15, 2019
Today, all the men in Britain who insist that everyone else is snowflakey, over-sensitive and thin-skinned will be crying about an advert that is not scheduled to appear on British TV. Just a heads up. #Gillette — James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) January 15, 2019
NEWS! Man furious at Gillette for ‘bullying is bad’ advert perfectly happy to be targeted by ‘this product helps you get sex’ adverts https://t.co/IhyzYgduAw pic.twitter.com/HGi99kz79S — NewsThump (@newsthump) January 15, 2019
I am so bored of men complaining that the Gillette advert is bad because it tells men they’re not good enough. Welcome to literally every advert ever targeted at women. At least you’re not good enough because of your actions. We’re just shit because of our skin/hair/weight/face. — Rebecca Reid (@RebeccaCNReid) January 15, 2019
Social analytics data from Meltwater measured the effectiveness and impact of the campaign found that the work had accrued 284,452 mentions on social media. The main keywords were ‘bad behaviour, stadium, razors, women, boys, toxic masculinity, and good’. Audience gender breakdown was 70% men and 30% women, and the lead markets were the USA, UK, Canada.
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